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BJJ and MMA Self-Defense Training


H2H Self-Defense: Knee to Face Technique
A common question that gets asked alot is “How can I use BJJ or MMA for Self-Defense? Do I need to change my training? What can I do to make BJJ or MMA more Reality based?” Here are some thoughts…

Hey guys,

I just got an email from a BJJ practioner in Belgium named Amando. He asked some very interesting questions. Mainly he is recognizing that BJJ is a great ground grappling art, but what can do you if you want to train in self-defense against:

"defense against sucker punches, grabs, headlocks, knives, sticks, etc …"

This is a common question and common topic that I talk to my students about on a regular basis. BJJ and MMA are AMAZING fighting arts. They teach you how to become an excellent warrior in straight-up one and one competition. It helps if that one and one competition is taking place on a soft surface like grass or a ring, but they are still amazing fighting arts. In fact, it is part of what I teach at my school.

Here are the remaining of Amando’s questions and I’ll address each of them individually.

Question: "striking : are the strikes that you use, based upon a martial art like kickboxing for exemple ?  or do you use typical strikes suitable for streetcombat and/or mma ?"

The striking we train in the H2H System is a combination of MMA striking (elbows, knees, punches, kicks, clinch striking, etc) and the best way I could describe it would be Kenpo striking and Dirty Striking. This is where you are using face rips, eye-gouges, ear pulls, groin strikes, attacks to the neck, etc. I think MMA striking is very useful in teaching you have to strike effectively. But you will need to spar using those strikes. You cannot just teach someone to punch and really expect them to use it correctly. They need a live target or live scenario training (pad work) to use it effectively.

But – let me be clear on one thing here. Every martial artist or person has their favorite type of defense or fighting style. I personally like to fight in close range using clinch striking, dirty boxing and grappling. I do not like to "trade-punches" with an opponent, and would prefer to stay off the ground in a real fight. Even though I love ground grappling, I recognize the danger that exists there.

Question: "diry streetfighting ; another tool in streetfighting is the use of eyegouging, groinstrikes, bites, etc.  how does bjj prepare his students for such attacks ? is there a defence against those attacks ?"

H2H Self-Defense: Ear slap to Eye-Gouge Technique
H2H Self-Defense: Ear slap to Eye-Gouge Technique
H2H Self-Defense: Knee to Face Technique
H2H Self-Defense: Knee to Face Technique

Dirty Street Fighting:

In order to prepare yourself for these attacks, first you have to be familiar with them. You have to train to use them, when to use them, and how to use them. It is also a mindset you must have. If you are in a life/death situation, it’s not time to go for an armbar, it’s time to jam your fingers in someone’s eye and rip their cheek off.

How can you train for something like that?
Easily – just do repetions like you would normally do for any other technique. Instead of actually jamming your thumb in someone’s eye, just push against their eyebrows.

What about groin strikes and biting?

Groin strikes are a mixed bag with me. Yes, they are effective, but sometimes they’re a miss or have no effect. For example: while working one night at the club years ago I saw a small dude kick one of the other bouncers SQUARE IN THE NUTS. The effect – nothing. It pissed him off even more! Granted this dude was a roid-rage freak. I’ve seen him get sprayed with pepper spray in the face and laugh like a wildman! He definitely had problems. But – the point is sometimes a groin strike is just not disabling enough. I would prefer a knee strike or a combination of groin strike, elbow, ear slap, eye-gouge etc. Just keep attacking. The problem with the small dude was that he thought the groin strike would have been it.

Gaseous Attacks

One of the terms used in Kenpo is Gaseous Attacks – meaning that the attacks are "all over you like gas", they are hitting you from all angles. Think about that when you are faced in a self-defense situation.

The Difference

The difference in these types of attacks is the mindset. If you have the mindset that you are in a grappling match, you will get seriously "f-ed" up or seriously dead. If you have the mindset that you’re going to tear your attackers face off, you have a better chance of survival.

H2H Self-Defense Sparring
Matt Bryers sparring for Self-Defense

Question: "sparring: we spar sport bjj gi and no gi, and also vale tudo; can you give me if possible some sparring methods typical for street self defense ?"

Sparring for Street Fighting:

One might think this is harder to do, but in reality it’s not. You just need to open your mind to reality self-defense and get creative. Here are some ideas.

Bull Ring:

One of my suggestions would be to do soemthing like the "Bull-Ring". Have 4-6 opponets circle you and assign them a number, have your instructor call them off and attack you. You beat them with a variety of strikes, grapping and ground fighting. But you only have a a few seconds on the ground before another attacker comes.

H2H Self-Defense Attack/Defense:

Something we do in H2H is give one or two people MMA gloves (attackers) and then one person without (victim). The attackers will just "jump" the victim with a variety of street attacks, and the victim has to defend himself.

H2H Self-Defense Knife or Weapon Attack/Defense:

When it comes to weapons, give one attacker a weapon and the other without. Have them spar like that.

If you open your mind to real self-defense, it’s actually very easy to create sparring sessions and live drills which open your mind to self-defense.

H2H Self-Defense: Ear slap to Eye-Gouge Technique
H2H Self-Defense: Knife Stab – Shoulder Arm-Break

Question: "weapon defense : in various schools they teach many counters, but, i discovered that when sparring against a knife or stick; that only a few basic counters work. do you practise those self defense also against a resisting opponent ?"

Basics Basics Basics

If the basics are working for you – then that’s what you want! You want to be able to use the basics. Forget the advanced flashly stuff – train what works. If you have 2-3 techniques that are you "go to" techniques, that you can execute without thought or prepartion, then use them over and over and over again. Those basics will help you survive.

Yes, we do work againt a resisting opponent when sparring. Spar against a training knife, stick, etc. You will be surprised how difficult and eye-openning this is.


Sport fighting is awesome, I love it, train it, live it, etc. But I know the difference between sport and reality. I train for sport and for reality. If you want to train real self-defense then you need to train real self-defense. You need to open your mind to the reality of it and train accordingly.

If you are just training sport and are looking for some ideas on how to enhance your training to include real self-defense, then check out the H2H Self-Defense Combat Manual and Video series. I created this manual with my instructor. It is a VERY solid offering that will give you the necessary responses for a real self-defense situation.

Additional Resources:


Matt Bryers
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About me:

  • Certified H2H Combat instructor in the H2H System
  • 2nd Degree Black Belt in Kobukai Ju-Jitsu
  • Purple Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
  • Competitor in Jiu-Jitsu, Grappling and MMA
  • Operated Self-defense and Ju-Jitsu School in Cromwell, CT

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